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Car confidential: Vauxhall gets Clarkson’s approval

Here’s 18 carat-proof that Vauxhall’s renaissance is complete – almost. “The new Astra is a fabulous piece of design, as handsome and as ‘right’ as any Ferrari. And it has an air of quality you wouldn’t expect from a Vauxhall.”

That tribute did not gush from a Griffin insider, but from a man who point blank refused to test drive the original Vectra, as a TV audience of millions squirmed. Yes, Jeremy Clarkson has fallen in love with the three-door Astra. And sources vow the Astra is no blip, but the shape of things to come.

It’s safe to say Clarkson won’t be falling in love with the Vectra anytime soon, but it’s soon to become a little more loveable. Funkier, Astra-style lamps transform the Vectra and Signum this autumn, as part of a mid-life makeover. The suspension is overhauled, cabin materials upgraded and a pumped-up Vectra VXR unleashed.

Sadly, the 212bhp twin-turbo diesel concept engine is on hold for now, so it’s petrol power only from the 2.8-litre V6 turbo used in Saab’s 9-3. The 260bhp Vauxhall has a slight power advantage, though.

The Meriva is next for the VXR makeover in spring 2006, with a deep bodykit, mesh-filled grilles and pram handle wing transforming the anonymous family wagon into a Max Power wannabe. Power comes from a 1.6-litre, producing an impressive 180bhp.

As reported in AM, the Astra Coupé/Convertible won’t be far behind, along with the left-hook-only Opel GT roadster, the all-new Corsa and a Vauxhall SUV. Although the 4x4, a five-seat version of the Chevrolet S3X concept, effectively replaces the Frontera, sources confirm the much improved model gets a new name.

And the final piece in the jigsaw? An iconic flagship to replace the Omega, and maybe the Signum, too. “We can do it, but it won’t arrive for the next two years,” says our source. It won’t be another also-ran saloon, so expect a crossover bodystyle. “The German premium brands own this segment, so this flagship had better be damn good and original.”

Intriguing stuff. If that Vauxhall can make Clarkson dribble, then the Griffin’s renaissance will be complete.

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